‘They just pull up everything!’ Chinese fleet raises fears for Galápagos sea life

‘They just pull up everything!’ Chinese fleet raises fears for Galápagos sea life

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: August 6, 2020 SNIP: Jonathan Green had been tracking a whale shark named Hope across the eastern Pacific for 280 days when the satellite transmissions from a GPS tag on her dorsal fin abruptly stopped. It was not unusual for the GPS signal to go silent, even for weeks at a time, said Green, a scientist who has been studying the world’s largest fish for three decades in the unique marine ecosystem around the Galápagos Islands. But then he looked at satellite images in the area where Hope was last tracked – more than a thousand nautical miles west of the islands – and noticed the ocean was being patrolled by hundreds of Chinese fishing boats. “I began to look into it and found that at the very end of her track she began to speed up,” said Green, co-founder and director of the Galápagos Whale Shark Project. “It went from one knot to six or seven knots for the last 32 minutes – which is, of course, the speed of a fishing boat,” he said. The fishing vessels that Green saw on the satellite images are believed to belong to an enormous Chinese-flagged fleet which Ecuadorian authorities last week warned was just outside the Galápagos Islands’ territorial waters. “I don’t have proof but my hypothesis is that she was caught by vessels from the same fleet which is now situated to the south of the islands,” Green told the Guardian. She is the third GPS-tracked whale shark to have gone missing in the last decade, he added. The Chinese fleet, numbering more than 200...
Supertrawlers ‘making a mockery’ of UK’s protected seas

Supertrawlers ‘making a mockery’ of UK’s protected seas

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 11, 2020 SNIP: Supertrawlers spent almost 3,000 hours fishing in UK marine protected areas in 2019, making “a mockery of the word ‘protected’,” according to campaigners. Supertrawlers are those over 100 metres in length and can catch hundreds of tonnes of fish every day, using nets up to a mile long. A Greenpeace investigation revealed that the 25 supertrawlers included the four biggest in the world and fished in 39 different marine protected areas (MPAs). The Southern North Sea MPA was one of those fished and was created to safeguard porpoises, which are especially threatened by supertrawlers. More than 1,000 porpoises died in fishing nets around the UK in 2019. The most heavily fished MPA was the Wyville Thomson Ridge, off Shetland, which was intended to protect reefs. All the supertrawler fishing was legal. Forty per cent of England’s seas are designated as MPAs, but these only ban some of the most damaging activities in some locations. On Monday, an independent review commissioned by the government urged the establishment of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), where all harmful activities including fishing, dredging and construction are banned. The government’s own assessment in 2019 showed the marine environment is not in a healthy state. “Our government allowing destructive supertrawlers to fish for thousands of hours every year in MPAs makes a mockery of the word ‘protected’,” said Chris Thorne of Greenpeace UK. “For our government to be taken seriously as a leader in marine protection, it must ban this practice.” Rainer Froese, of the Helmholtz centre for ocean research in Kiel, Germany, said: “Overfishing means taking...
Trump to open Atlantic marine national monument to commercial fishing

Trump to open Atlantic marine national monument to commercial fishing

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: June 5, 2020 SNIP: President Trump vowed Friday to open the nation’s only national monument in the Atlantic Ocean to commercial fishing, saying he was giving Maine back part of its history and the fishermen their industry. He signed a proclamation declaring the opening after attending a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen in Bangor, Maine, that included a wide-ranging conversation about unwanted regulations and tariffs on the seafood trade. “We’re opening it today,” Trump said. To the fishermen, he added: “We’re gonna solve your fishing problem….Basically, they took away your livelihood. It’s ridiculous.” Trump’s move to open fishing in the Northeastern Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will surely open a new front in the ongoing legal battle over the limits of presidential powers regarding national monuments. Native American tribes and environmental groups are already challenging administration efforts to reduce the size of two monuments in Utah. In this case, as some who attended the Maine meeting pointed out, the president is not seeking to change the marine monument’s boundaries. Environmental groups nonetheless immediately vowed to sue the Trump administration. “A significant change to the monument or its protections—such as allowing commercial fishing—must be done by Congress, not by the president,” Brad Sewell, senior director of Oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Antiquities Act gives the president power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power, to abolish those protections.” He added: “We are prepared to sue the Trump administration.” Enric Sala, a marine biologist and founder of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas program, who helped to...
Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

SOURCE: Oxpeckers DATE: December 19, 2019 SNIP: Every night dozens of wooden boats loaded with fishing equipment pass under the Punta Penna bridge and into the protected waters of the Mar Piccolo, a unique saltwater lagoon in the southern Italian port city of Taranto. Trawling nets, cage traps and even homemade bombs are deployed into the moonlit waters by those in search of lucrative prey. “It’s like my father picking lemons and making limoncello at home,” says Luciano Manna, a local activist who has been monitoring the illegal activity for five years. “It’s too easy.” The lagoon is so rich in biodiversity – with long-snouted seahorses, prized mussels, rare seaweeds, greater pipefish and loggerhead sea turtles among its native species – that marine biologists call it a “living eco-museum”. But an organised illegal wildlife trade with links to China is quietly devastating the Mar Piccolo and many other coastal habitats across the Puglia region, with experts warning that endangered marine species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Michele Gristina, who works for Italy’s Institute for Coastal Marine Environment, has been studying the seahorses in Taranto for nearly 20 years. Once one of the largest concentrations in Europe, the seahorse population collapsed between 2016 and 2017. The only explanation, he says, is poaching. “We tried to explain it [the decline] with environmental reasons such as the spread of pollution, water temperature or oxygen depletion, but it wasn’t the reason,” says Gristina. “People have seen there are a lot of seahorses and that money can be made, and they have begun to hunt them. In my opinion, seahorses along...
Modern fishing methods are driving small whales and dolphins to extinction

Modern fishing methods are driving small whales and dolphins to extinction

SOURCE: Science DATE: December 11, 2019 SNIP: More than a dozen species of small whales and dolphins are headed toward extinction, a new study finds. The main reason: modern fishing nets, which trap and kill hundreds of thousands of the animals every year. The findings are “a good summary of the insidious threats facing critically endangered populations of dolphins and porpoises around the world,” says C. Scott Baker, a conservation geneticist and cetacean expert at Oregon State University in Newport who was not involved with the study. Small cetaceans such as the vaquita and various river dolphins successfully lived alongside human fishers for thousands of years in coastal waters, estuaries, and rivers. Then, after World War II, fishers began to replace their cotton and hemp nets with less expensive and more durable synthetic ones. These so-called gillnets don’t require expensive equipment or large vessels, making them especially attractive to small-scale fishers worldwide. But cetaceans (as well as other marine mammals and sea turtles) can’t bite through the nets if caught in them, as they could with the cotton nets. Conservationists have tried for at least 30 years to develop nets that the animals can avoid or easily escape, but they have yet to come up with a good solution. They have also urged governments to enact strict regulations and outright bans on the use of gillnets, but these are typically difficult to enforce. Now, 13 small cetacean species are nearing extinction primarily because of these nets, marine biologists report this month in Endangered Species Research. Using data collected by fishing authorities who have recorded population sizes, trends, and the...